Helga spent the rest of the morning immersed in Rowena’s copy of the Metamorph Magi. It was a large book, and seemed inexhaustible in its wisdom. All the travellers maintained a fondness for it, and in bad weather, they studied it together or singly, and perfected some of the more simple incantations.
The conversation with Rowena had stirred Helga’s concern about Emmeline however, so that, after the mid-day meal, she made her way through the chilly rain to Rumie and Edwina’s cottage. It was pleasantly warm inside, and she entered to friendly greetings, and an offer of mint tea. She accepted gratefully, delicately nudging a tabby cat off a chair so she could sit down. Rumie was busy with something at her work table, and Emmeline, who seemed quite at home, got Helga’s tea.
A vigorous orange steam was rising from a caldron on the work table. Rumie was intensely focused on what she was doing, so rather than distract her, Helga looked around. There were shelves everywhere, holding an impressive array of bottles, jars, vials, equipment, and bundles of dried herbs. She could recognize some of what she saw, but not all. Rumie took up a small vial, pouring a few grains of its contents into the caldron. Immediately a spray of orange sparks shot upward, then the potion settled contentedly into a demure simmer.
Rumie set down the vial and turned to Helga. “Thank you for not disturbing me; that’s very fiddly work. I’m trying this potion for the first time, but it needs to simmer for a day. Surely you haven’t come to me for a cure; Emmeline has told me that you’re a renowned healer, and that you studied with the druidess Cleodna.”
Helga smiled self-deprecatingly. “Well, the second part is true. You have things here I’ve never seen before. Is that fireflem?”
“Yes, you can tell by the four-lobed red flowers. I haven’t gotten around to dealing with it yet. There was so much to do after the mooncap bloom.”
“Oh yes! That was wonderful!”
They talked on, comparing herbs and remedies they’d tried, or heard of. “I have noticed how healthy folk seem here,” Helga remarked. “Of course magic is very useful in tweaking the weather, or halting the spread of blight, but it seems that folk, especially the children, are hearty.”
“That’s true,” Rumie said with some pride. “You may have noticed we have fewer children than muggle villages, but they’re healthier, just as you say.”
Helga looked thoughtful. “Yes, now that you say so, there do seem to be fewer children. That means more to eat, and healthier mothers too.”
“Quite so. In muggle villages, I had to be very careful what I told women about such things, and who found out. Here, no one is going to search me out and, well you know what can happen, for giving women such knowledge. And it’s just simple breeding. In an all magic village, after some generations, think of the witches and wizards we will have. Emmeline tells me you brewed a potion for luck! That’s extraordinary! You must tell me how!”
Helga started, then frowned. She looked at Emmeline, who looked back imperviously. Helga cleared her throat. “Well, I am sorry to have to tell you that it didn’t work.”
“Oh yes it did,” Emmeline said, “You all said it did. Your friend made it through the entire battle without….” Finally realizing what she was saying, she put a hand over her mouth, and then said more softly, “Well, he did…, he did make it through the battle, it’s just that the potion wore off right?”
Helga looked back to Rumie, who was looking her most predatory. “If luck means that the end of the day brings your death, then I want no part in teaching how to brew it.”
“But he chose,” Emmeline said more diffidently. “He was on the battle field. When the potion wore off, he must have known he was in danger.”
“He wouldn’t have been on the battle field if I hadn’t allowed him to believe what he wanted was possible.”
“But it was,” Rumie said unexpectedly. “It was possible. You succeeded; Emmeline has told me all about it. That is a remarkable achievement! Think of the benefits! Are you jealous of your potions then?”
“No,” Helga said with some heat. “I’m not, but this potion isn’t one that should ever be used; it’s not safe. It causes recklessness, false beliefs….” To her own horror, Helga’s eyes filled with tears. The last thing she wanted was to cry in front of Emmeline and this strange witch. “If you pass me that bundle of bloodboil weed I’ll strip the leaves and crush them for you.” In uncharacteristic silence, Rumie did so.
“May I ask what you were working on when I came in?” Helga made her tone deliberately polite and friendly.
“Oh it’s a variation on a strengthening solution.” Rumie went on to describe her innovative approach to this potion standard.
“It will certainly be useful when Godric faces the chimaera,” Rumie finished.
“When what?” Helga dropped her pestle in distress.
Rumie looked surprised. “Emmeline told me she overheard the men talking strategy.” On the whole, the visit did more to upset Helga’s nerves than it did to soothe them.
She had meant to stay calm, but when she saw Godric and Salazar entering the inn’s common room together, laughing with that infuriating male air of vigorous smugness, she couldn’t restrain herself. Fronting them sturdily, she said, “There’s a rumor going around that you’re planning to fight the chimaera.”
Godric shrugged. “Well of course. It can’t just be allowed to go on preying on man and beast.”
He made as though to pass her on his way to the fire, but she blocked him. “Godric, you are not to attempt single combat with it.”
Salazar laughed, but Godric’s eyes slid away, and he looked shifty.
“Godric!” She exclaimed loudly, “Look at me!”
He did so, and Salazar put a light hand on her arm. “Don’t worry sister, Godric has no such intention, have you.” It was more statement than question, but Godric continued to look shifty. Salazar laughed again. “Whatever ridiculous idea this oaf has in his head, he’s not going to face the chimaera in single combat. We’ve been discussing it with the other men, and we’re working out a plan of attack. Godric has been part of the discussions and,” Salazar raised his voice for emphasis, “He’s not going to go off on his own and do anything noble and foolish, are you?”
Godric backed away from Helga, shrugging out of his damp cloak. “Apparently, I’m not,” he said sullenly.
Helga was still upset by the earlier conversation about her role in Odo’s death, and it lent an uncommon edge to her voice as she said, “Godric, what are you thinking? You’re absolutely not to go throwing your life away because of some foolish idea about honor or bravery.”
Godric turned on her angrily. “Honor and bravery are not foolish, and it’s up to me to decide what I will do and not do.”
Before more angry words could be exchanged, Salazar said peaceably, “Come and sit down. I’ll draw us ale.” It was uncommon enough for Salazar to offer to serve another, that Godric and Helga submitted, dropping resentfully into chairs around one of the tables. Rowena, who’d been reading the Metamorph Magi by the fire, rose quietly to join them.
There was an awkward silence, then Salazar said calmly, “What would you have us do Helga? Live here, train our horses, then simply leave the folk here to be picked off one by one?”
“It’s not our problem,” Helga replied, but she looked uncomfortable. “We have been welcomed here, but we’ve earned our keep. Surely we don’t owe them our lives! Why can’t they take care of themselves?”
“They’ve lost their lord,” Godric said sadly. “They have no one to lead them or fight for them, and I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that they’re well set up to lead or fight themselves. Æthelrand died nobly, and he deserves to be avenged.”
Seeing Helga about to object, Salazar leaned forward toward her. “Helga,” he said intensely, “I know you fear for Godric, but I assure you, none of us is going to let him face the chimaera in single combat. Instead, we’re going to work together. You are a good and humble woman, but surely you must have concluded by now, surely we all must have concluded by now, that the four of us are…, are special.” He looked quickly around the room to make sure they were alone, then fixed his eyes once more on Helga’s face. “Here we sit in an all magic village, but I know you feel it as I do; we four have more power than any other witches or wizards we’ve met, saving perhaps Cleodna. Do you believe in wyrd, in fate?”
“Of course,” Helga replied, “Who does not?”
Salazar nodded. “I believe, I know, that my fate is bound up with yours, with Godric’s, with Rowena’s. We four are fated to do great deeds, and to have a great destiny. I feel it, I know it. Look away if you will, but you feel it too, I know you do, and you Godric, and you Rowena, you know this in your hearts.” He spoke with compelling intensity, and no one looked away. “I don’t know what our destiny is, but I know it will be great. What could be a more noble beginning than this.”
Unexpectedly, Rowena leaned forward too. “I also feel this. It has been growing stronger of late. I care for you all of course, but Salazar is right; we have powers most other witches and wizards don’t have. Helga, I know how much you want to find a home, a safe, comfortable place. I long for the quiet of library and scriptorium, but Salazar is right, I know it.” She looked at Godric and Salazar. “And the fighting is not only for the men to do. This is not a battle to be won only by the strength of a sword arm. We all must use the power we have, to help, or why do we have it?”
Helga dropped her eyes to her ale cup. She took a deep breath, then let it out. “I cannot honestly say I disagree with any of you. I still grieve for Odo, and my part in his death. I know it was his choice, but such power as we have is…, it sometimes seems a fearsome thing to me. I don’t want harm to come to any of you. I’ve…, I’ve lost too much already.” She swallowed resolutely, and raised her eyes. “Very well, I will help.” She fixed Godric with a beady eye. “But no single combat: swear it!”
“I so swear,” Godric answered. He reached out and touched her hand. “You are always teaching me types of courage I’ve never seen before.”
The weather was mostly vile, and Helga stayed in doors, spending the mornings with Rowena and her students. Helga felt she needed the practice in reading. When the children began to be restless, she would pull out potion ingredients, and teach them rudimentary herb lore and potion making.
While Rowena had the children read aloud or practice wand movements, Helga would take up the Metamorph Magi. Occasionally, Salazar would join her on the settle, the book open between them. When Rowena had set her pupils to an exercise of copying, she would sometimes join them, reading over the shoulder of one or the other. By tacit agreement, they refrained from practicing transformations when the village children were about. They had become possessive about the book. Reading it, whether together or alone, had become a strangely reassuring pastime, but they saved experiments with slitted cat eyes and feathered crests, for when they were alone. Godric sometimes participated in these private games, but more often, he was in demand for some task or other around the village.
While Godric had reluctantly abandoned the idea of single combat, he remained, by unspoken consent, in charge of the battle plan. Since he wasn’t to be allowed the glory of facing the beast alone, he intended on a many-pronged attack, considering carefully the resources and powers available to him. He consulted with Rowena. She confided in him that she was working on what might prove to be a very useful spell of her own creation, but begged him not to say anything about it, in case she was unable to pull it off in the moment. Understanding the desire to preserve one’s pride, he agreed.
At his urging, she pored over every text she had, looking for anything that might help in a fight to the death with perhaps the most vicious and bloodthirsty of all magical creatures.
“There is only one recorded instance of anyone succeeding in battle with a chimaera,” she told him finally, “And that was achieved from the back of a winged horse, and with the help of a blacksmith.”
She Explained. Godric listened carefully, then nodded. Æthelrand’s tactic of fighting from above had been a good one, but the geography was suited to single combat, not to pitched battle. He urged Salazar and Edwina to double their training efforts, and took a more active role himself, testing the limits of both fliers and their mounts. Then, he went to consult with Alfred.
He urged Helga to set aside her reservations about Aunt Rumie, so that the women could work together on Rumie’s strengthening potion. He also spoke to Salazar about weather wisdom. Although fighting the chimaera in the persistent rain had some appeal, Godric doubted the beast could be lured into the open in such weather, and besides, visibility would be poor. Livestock continued to be picked off at random, and two weeks after Æthelrand’s death, the village lost another herder. Godric didn’t want to wait for the weather to clear.
Rowena expressed great interest in this, and so she and Salazar spent many chilly and sodden afternoons on hilltops, while he taught her how to seize the winds and direct the clouds. She was as exhilarated by this as Godric had been.
They lay together in the wet grass, eyes and minds focused on the skies. When the clouds dispersed and rays of sun began shining down on them, she turned toward him with exultation. He looked at her, damp, dirty, untidy, and exultant. He raised his wand lazily, and performed an impressive drying spell on their clothing, and the grass beneath them. Suddenly, the hilltop where they lay alone together was warm, and full of sunlight.
The next morning, all was ready. Godric had chosen the peninsula as the best place to fight. It was the largest space of open ground, having been subjected for years to the patchy burning of dragon landings. It would be no mean feat to corral the chimaera on to this spit of land, but Godric didn’t want to risk the creature’s escape. It would take some doing, but he wanted to get the beast with its back to the water, with nowhere to run. It would be at its most dangerous when cornered, but he was determined that the matter must be ended here and now.
They breakfasted together in the common room. Celina served them, but wouldn’t sit down to eat. Withdrawn as she had been since the last combat, now she was almost completely silent. Helga understood well that Celina feared Godric’s death above all else.
Spectators were once again urged to climb the rise of ground around the lake, overlooking the peninsula, and out of reach of the chimaera. The mood of the crowd was tense and quiet, nothing like the last time.
There would be no rousing speeches or cheering, but the feeling among the four of them at breakfast was business-like. Godric and Salazar joked more boisterously than folk usually do so early in the morning, though that may have been owing to the large cups of mead Salazar poured, and brought to set down before the two men. They each also had a goblet of the strengthening potion, which Helga had finally deemed to be safe. When all goblets had been drained, the four went outside, Godric and Helga congratulating Salazar and Rowena on a perfectly clear day. Rowena and Salazar thanked them, and smiled.
When all spectators were safely in place, Edwina and Salazar mounted, and took to the air. Their job was to fly over the area looking for the chimaera. The first one to see it was to unfurl a scarlet banner, both to lure the beast toward the peninsula, and to let everyone else know the chimaera was coming. Godric, Helga, Rowena, and the strongest of the village were concealed at the place where the spit of land jutted out into the lake. They must wait, still and silent, until the chimaera had passed them, then follow, to give it battle.
Salazar was the first to unfurl his banner, as he’d known he would be. Edwina was excellent with the horses, but she hadn’t his empathy for animals. As he flew, he extended his consciousness, seeking out the chimaera with his thoughts. He remembered what had almost happened with the dragon, how his own consciousness had begun to be submerged. He was more careful this time. Still, he was overwhelmed by the brutal and chaotic mind. He clung to his horse’s mane, leaning forward over its neck, fighting the wave of dizziness. He opened his eyes wide, trying to focus on what was before him, not to allow his awareness to be dangerously divided. He felt the thin pole of the scarlet banner slipping from his fingers. He leaned alarmingly to one side, and grabbed it just before it fell. Recovering himself with a sickening lurch in his belly, he raised it aloft, both taunt to his foe, and message to his comrades.
Edwina unfurled her banner, and took up her position ahead of him. They had agreed that who ever was closest to the chimaera should stay there, while the other flier went ahead, acting as an additional lure, and as backup in case something happened. Salazar’s task now was to coax his horse to fly low enough to be a tempting irritant to the chimaera, but high enough to be out of range of its breath. This required an unpleasant amount of twisting around to look behind him, without disturbing the horse’s flight. If the horse grew skittish, it might simply fly off.
Higher, lower, higher, lower: Salazar tried to calm his horse’s increasing irritation. Each time the chimaera seemed to get distracted by movement on the ground, he would lean forward, indicating an intention to land. When the chimaera became once more inflamed by sight of the scarlet banner, and its desire to make mints out of Salazar and the horse, Salazar would pull back, urging the horse upward once more. This was a sickening course for many reasons, and it ended abruptly.
The horse was getting quite grumpy. It swished its large chestnut tail fretfully as Salazar once more urged it upward. The sudden movement above and ahead proved irresistible. The chimaera leapt forward with a burst of speed, and tried to launch itself off the ground. It couldn’t of course, but its powerful dragon’s tail gave it more force than Salazar had expected. The fiery breath caught the chestnut tail, and it burst into a sickening fan of flame.
Salazar reacted immediately. Before the flame could touch flesh, he used as much mental force as he could summon, to urge the horse upward, off to one side, then down into the cold water of the lake. This was a horrible experience for everyone involved, but far superior to the alternative.
It took some time for Salazar and his mount to make their way onto land. He dried them both off with his wand, and looked up. Edwina had taken her place as goad to the chimaera. He had to admit that she was doing an impressive job of controlling her horse and keeping it calm. She’d found the knack of it, and was making steady progress toward the chosen battle ground, the chimaera mindlessly following the lure of the scarlet banner. Salazar’s horse wasn’t as badly shaken as he’d feared. The fire hadn’t reached its flesh, and although the lake had been unwelcome, the horse was dry now. He mounted, and urged it toward the peninsula. He realized too late that the absence of its tail affected the horse’s balance in flight. They bobbed and weaved their way drunkenly across the water, and made an ungainly landing at the end of the spit. Salazar debated What to do with the horse. He thought he could probably send it on its way. It could likely fly back to its fellows safely enough, but an erratically flying horse might soon be vastly preferable to no horse at all, so he let it alone to choose its own fate.
It was unnerving to watch Edwina leading a deadly enemy toward him, where he stood, his back to the water. He paced anxiously, trying to decide where best to position himself. Finally, he chose a place along the side of the peninsula, near a cairn of loose stones they’d set up there the previous day.
Helga, Rowena, Godric, and the villagers who’d elected to fight with them, crouched in the undergrowth at the lakes edge, where the spit began to jut out from the shore. They didn’t have a clear view of the sky, but they were able to spot Edwina as she flew lazily back and forth in front of the chimaera, taunting it with her scarlet banner, and coaxing it forward along the path they had chosen for it.
Finally, they heard an immense rustling of dead leaves as the chimaera drew closer. This was an extremely tense moment. They must stay absolutely still and silent. The worst thing that could happen now was for the beast to sense them, and attack in close quarters, close quarters moreover, that were highly flammable.
Godric felt he couldn’t bear to stay put a moment longer. His fingers caressed the grip of his ax lovingly. If he could get off one good throw just as the creature passed, he might wound it mortally, and save them all a lot of trouble. He was in the act of lifting the ax from his belt when he felt a sharp stab in his shoulder. He looked around in shock; it was entirely the wrong time of year for bees. Helga was staring at him with eyes so fierce they might have spat fire themselves. Her wand was raised, and he realized she’d hit him with a well-aimed stinging hex: not bad enough to really hurt, but enough to get his attention. He pursed his lips in anger, but let his hand fall from the ax.
Rowena held her wand tightly. It was her only weapon, and if her spell should fail…. She wouldn’t let herself complete the thought, but she felt sick with fear. There was a startling shriek from nearly overhead: some impervious bird, careless of their danger. Reflexively Rowena looked up, and her mouth fell open. She shut it quickly, but her eyes were huge. Perched on the branch of a nearby tree, was a blue-black raven. Its beady eyes stared directly at her, leaving her in no doubt that it was the same bird which had precipitated her departure from the safety of the scriptorium, the same bird who had preserved Aidan’s tiny sister from the wolf. Helga saw Rowena’s expression, and followed her gaze. Rowena realized that none of her companions had seen the raven before. Helga looked startled, but then, there was no attention to be spared for birds.
The chimaera was abreast of them now. There was a heart-stopping moment when it stood still, quite close to them, sniffing the air. Edwina, in desperation, began yelling down to it.
“Come on you ugly, misbegotten offspring of a demon! This way! What’s the matter? Afraid of us? You should be!” In a different situation, her taunts might have been funny. Instead, they raised the spirits of all, making them feel braver. All, that is, except the chimaera. It had apparently had quite enough of being mocked, and bounded forward with a will.
This was the moment for action. “Now!” Godric called. Instantly, each of them raised a bow with an arrow on the string. They had rehearsed it, and it came off perfectly. None of them save Godric was much of an archer, but he had drilled them to shoot in waves. There wasn’t much hope of penetrating the scaly tail, but enough arrows shot at reasonable range, might possibly do some damage to the goat’s body. The effect was slight. The chimaera checked its mad rush forward, as though puzzled by the sudden sting of multiple insects. It did a kind of sideways shuffle, that gave the first wave of archers time to restring. The next volley mostly bounced off the back of the goat head, and seemed to propel the beast into motion.
Now, the attackers followed with a will. Their goal was to stay beside and behind, keeping out of reach of the fiery breath as long as they could. The stoutest of them carried axes, which could be used in close range, or thrown. Multiple piles of stones had been laid around the spit, ready for throwing, either by hand or by magic. Godric had his sword, but he was the only one. Thus, Godric’s many-pronged attack began.
The chimaera was bombarded by a hail of large stones and small boulders. These were intended to weaken and confuse it. The attackers aimed for head, shoulders and front legs, but the creature was moving so quickly that only some hit their targets. Salazar, waiting until the chimaera was almost upon him, used magic to lob a large stone right at the creature’s ear. The beast let out a bellow of pain and turned toward him, but he was quicker, hurling himself into the water where he was safe both from the fiery breath, and from pursuit. Edwina had succeeded in luring the chimaera right to the end of the peninsula, which was exactly where Godric wanted it. She continued to fly out over the water, both to give her horse time to calm down, and to keep the chimaera facing away from its attackers. This worked for a few seconds, during which blows rained down on the chimaera from stones and axes. Finally, however, the chimaera had enough, and turned on them in a fury of aggression.
Many retreated immediately, but Godric and some others stood their ground. A flurry of spears and large stones at close range had some effect, but several received bad, sometimes crippling burns. Others, brave enough to attempt ax blows, were struck by the creature’s deadly claws.
Godric had one spear, his ax and his sword left. The spear was the most cumbersome weapon to retain, so he decided to use it first. He was too close for throwing, so stabbed its barbed point repeatedly upward, trying to reach the vulnerable spot below the jaw. The creature was nearly dancing with rage from the repeated blows of rocks and thrown spears however, and was an impossible target for a precision thrust. Miraculously, Godric continued to jump, sidestep, duck and weave, eluding the deadly breath. All could see that he was tiring though.
It hadn’t occurred to Godric to fight the beast with magic himself; fighting was a skill of the arm, the body, and the mind. For Helga and Rowena, magic was the only way they knew to fight. Helga was trying a series of spells meant to shift the stony ground beneath the creature’s feet. This did work, and the chimaera was often halted in its attempts to lunge at attackers with killing blows of its brutal claws, but it’s tail provided excellent balance, and she was never entirely able to topple it. Others in the attacking force used magic to hurl stones, and cause burns and welts to appear on the creature’s torso. These were driving it mad, and the multiple small injuries were beginning to slow it down.
Godric’s spear was nocked from his hand by a vicious swipe of the creature’s front foot. The swipe might have taken off Godric’s arm at the shoulder, but somehow he dodged just in time, and the spear was nocked from his hand, leaving his arm temporarily numb from the impact. The spear shattered under the creature’s powerful foot.
Godric looked around quickly, sensing something. Alfred was approaching, throwing ax held in both hands. Grateful for a second or two to catch his breath, Godric moved sideways. Alfred stepped bravely forward to take his throwing stance. The movement caught the chimaera’s attention, and the hideous head turned toward him. A puff of fiery breath flew through the air.
Standing back, Rowena gathered herself together for the one thing she hoped she could contribute to this fight. It was so much more difficult to focus her mind amid the shouts, the hail of missiles, and her own buzzing fear. If it worked, this spell might turn the tide. She cast, and nothing happened. She wanted to shout with rage. She stood, feeling absolutely impotent.
Alfred had thrown himself to the ground, but his clothes ignited. Rowena, strengthened by her own fury at herself, ran forward, heedless of her own danger, to try and roll Alfred toward the lake. Others joined her. After that, she and Helga devoted themselves to using magic to gather up more stones, and to quickly move those who’d been scorched, into the lake. There was no time for healing, and some were lost.
They were running out of stones, running out of weapons, and running out of options. However, the chimaera had lost ground too. Its front legs had been injured by repeated blows, and it couldn’t maneuver as quickly. Its strength seemed limitless, but repeated blunt traumas were beginning to wear it down.
After one particularly resounding blow to the head, the chimaera stood still, temporarily stunned into immobility. There was a harsh cry from overhead. The black raven swooped down toward the chimaera, so quickly that the beast had no time to react. The raven tucked its wings, made a dive, and sank its claw deep into the chimaera’s eye. There was a burst of blood, and a roar such as they’d not heard before. The chimaera leapt up, and injuries not withstanding, began laying about with fire and claws so that all scattered before it: all, save Godric. He would not yield.
He pulled his jewelled sword from its sheath, and started forward. There were cries of dismay and fear, but he didn’t hear them. He was leaping from side to side, jabbing upward at the unprotected throat, somehow dodging the fiery breath, and the frenzied swipes of the killing claws. Those who watched were astounded, never having seen anything like Godric’s ferocity, or his luck in evading the chimaera’s best attempts to eviscerate or incinerate him.
Salazar had retrieved Alfred’s ax. Now, he rushed forward. He was aiming for the side of the beast’s head. The chimaera was completely absorbed by its desire to stomp the life out of Godric, but as Salazar positioned the ax for a mighty blow, the beast turned its head, and sent a full blast of fire into his face.
Standing back and watching in horror, Rowena didn’t stop to think. She raised her wand high. Those who saw her wondered afterward if she hadn’t grown taller. She seemed to expand. Her eyes flashed, and power radiated from her. Instantly, a wall of water rose from the lake, sweeping in a powerful, focused wave between Salazar and the fire. Both Salazar and the chimaera fell back from it. Godric was thrown back as well. Salazar was the first to recover himself. He stood dripping, and raised fingers to his lips. He emitted a startling, piercing whistle.
Edwina had flown the horse to the rear of the battle, to keep it out of harm’s way, and preserve its sanity. She frankly didn’t trust it not to simply fly away, but all of their training together paid off, and it stayed by her side. The last phase of Godric’s battle plan lay with the horse. Edwina knew what to do if she must, but she wasn’t the most skilled, and she heard Salazar’s whistle with relief. She slapped the horse reassuringly on the hind quarters, and it rose into the air. It was more evidence of Salazar’s rapport with animals that the horse came to him, despite the chaos that reined around him. The bow and quiver full of arrows were tied on to the horse, right where they should be.
The Chimaera was dazed from the water, but recovering itself. Salazar led the horse quickly to Godric, and helped his friend to mount. “Good luck my brother,” he panted, as he secured the bow, and helped Godric sling the quiver over his back. Then, he retreated. They had all done everything they could. It was up to Godric now.
Godric had been exhausted by the fight, but leaving the ground was exhilarating. He felt a burst of strength as his world became three-dimensional in a way it hadn’t been before. Ever since leaving the inn, he’d felt an unreasonable optimism: a certainty of victory. Now, astride a winged horse, with the killing weapon in his hand, he had an astonishing feeling of infinite possibilities. He felt like he could do anything. “NO single combat is it Helga,” he shouted joyfully, “Watch this!”
As Edwina had done, he began shouting insults at the chimaera, trying to make it look up at him. “You mongrel! You twisted product of a charnel house! Your father was a worm, and your mother was a barn cat! You won’t even make meat for my dogs. Up here goat!”
He flew back and forth, flaunting his lack of fear in the beast’s face. It looked up. Now was the moment. Godric raised his bow, squinting, tensing his entire body to steady his weapon. Firing from a moving target was no joke. He’d practiced this too, but suddenly, it seemed simple.
He was aiming for the open mouth. The idea had come from one of Rowena’s books, its execution, from Alfred, the blacksmith. These were no ordinary arrows. Their tips were iron. As the arrow disintegrated into ash, the iron melted, and slid down the creature’s throat, and into its lungs, two places where hot metal manifestly didn’t belong. It wasn’t going to be quick, but it was going to be final.
Nearly every arrow hit its mark. As Godric swung back and forth, and up and down to avoid the flames, he watched the chimaera slow down, begin to sink to its knees, and still he got off arrows, one after another, into the fire. He felt a surge of triumph. He had one more arrow, and he was determined to loose them all. He dipped lower. The chimaera wanted desperately to tare him to bits. In a last burst of fury, it lunged. The horse lurched upward and away, but too late. As the chimaera fell to the ground for the last time, the horse’s left wing ignited. It shrieked, and plunged earthward, Godric tumbling off its back like a leaf blown from a tree.
The watchers below cried out. Salazar, Rowena and Helga had no time to even try to help. Perhaps if he’d been over water, perhaps, but…. There was a shocking swirl of color and movement from the cliff top where Æthelrand had fought. Down flew a creature few of them had ever seen. It swooped toward Godric, flying up beneath him as he fell. He clung convulsively, splayed across the lion’s back, born by the eagle’s wings. It landed, deposited Godric on the ground, and swept gracefully back into the air. The sunlight reflected off its mottled gold. Where the chimaera had simply been an abomination, this creature, blending eagle and lion seamlessly, was the most beautiful creature any there had ever seen.
Godric came to himself, and looked to the chimaera. It was clearly in its death throes. He drew his sword, ran forward, and delivered the killing blow. Salazar came to his side. Godric turned to him. “Are you wounded my brother?” Salazar asked.
Godric shook his head slowly. “I don’t know why I’m not, but I’m not. It was like the chimaera couldn’t touch me!” Salazar’s huge grin matched Godric’s, and they embraced.
They turned, and made there way back to where the watchers had clustered. They all looked stunned, and Godric laughed aloud, but found no words. Very slowly, a ragged cheering began. It grew in strength until the air rang with shouts of victory. No one could say afterward who was the first to call out the words “Godric’s hollow,” but they were taken up quickly by the rest of the fighters. The words carried over the water to the rest of the villagers where they watched from around the lake, and was echoed back. By the time the first of them had pelted back around the lake to join the fighters, all had agreed that the village would henceforth be known as Godric’s Hollow.
Godric objected, but they wouldn’t hear him. Finally, he gave up in favour of practicality. Helga and Rumie had already begun treating the injured, and Godric helped them organize moving them to the inn. When the last victim had been sent hovering on his way, Godric, Helga, Rowena and Salazar had a chance to look at one another, and truly savor what they had done.